A number of RRCB folks have asked for hard copies of the sermon entitled “Time Will Tell” which I preached on Founder’s Day, the church’s 70th anniversary. I suspect the keenest interest was in one of two areas. The first was what former pastor Dr. Vernon Richardson described as the church’s identity and calling in his 1965 sermon entitled, “My Dream for This Church.” The second was Dr. Bob Dale’s helpful portrait of the life cycle of a church. To that end, I will briefly summarize each.
Dr. Richardson laid out what he saw as the key identifying features of River Road Church, Baptist. They included the following:
- Open and accepting of all persons
- Baptist in polity, yet ecumenical in practice
- Worshipping in a free church style, marked by formal liturgy
- Pursuing excellence, especially in teaching and living out the faith
- Seeing the broader local community and the world as its mission field
These characteristic features of River Road Church remain today, and still mark the unique identity and practice of the congregation. Looking back is the way we appreciate our heritage and history; looking forward is the way we make history. Such is the challenge for RRCB as it moves deeper into the 21st century.
Dr. Bob Dale’s outline of the life cycle of a church is at the core of his classic book, “To Dream Again.” The stages of a typical church’s life are as follows.
- Early, founding stages: establishing the dream, beliefs, and goals
- Mid-life stages: setting structure, practicing ministry, looking back with nostalgia
- Late life stages: questioning, polarization, dropout
In the best scenario, a church begins to “redream its dream” and rediscover its purpose while in its mid-life stages, before decline and blame become the church’s prevailing modus operandi.
I suggested in the sermon that the key to any church’s vitality is to continually look and move forward – not simply to long for a glorious past or to stick with what is familiar (and safe) in the present.
Important questions to keep before us include the following:
- Do we place honoring God and faithfully serving Jesus Christ as top priority?
- Are we relentlessly exploring unique ways to fulfill River Road Church’s dream?
- Does this church offer divine hope to the world, in an engaging and relevant way?
Truly, time will tell!